Blog Voices from the Frontlines
Last night, the voters in Arkansas, Florida, Montana, and North Dakota approved state medical cannabis ballots, with three of the four receiving landslide support! Patient advocates in these states will now turn their attention to working with state agencies to swiftly implement these laws. With a total of 44 states having some sort of medical cannabis law and 29 comprehensive programs, medical cannabis has firmly established itself as a mainstream issue. The clean sweep of state medical cannabis ballot initiatives was easily the best news for medical cannabis patients, but there were additional victories for patients as well.
Patients and Proposition 64 - What California’s Legalization Initiative Says About Medical Cannabis - Americans for Safe Access
California voters will decide on Proposition 64, the Adult Use of Marijuana Act, on Tuesday. The initiative will legalize the non-medical use, possession and cultivation of cannabis, within certain limits, by adults aged twenty-one and over. It also creates a state licensing and regulation program that is similar to the one that the state legislature adopted for medical cannabis in 2015.
Voters are likely to approve the ballot measure. A poll conducted by USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times shows support for Proposition 64 at 58%. Our mission at Americans for Safe Access (ASA) is focused exclusively on medical cannabis; and therefore, the organization generally does not take positions of support or opposition regarding adult-use cannabis laws. However, Proposition 64, if approved, will make beneficial changes to the state’s medical cannabis laws related to personal cultivation, taxation, and patients’ rights.
The DC Council passed a bill this week that will make several improvements to the District's Medical Marijuana Program. The bill, B21-210, will authorize the Department of Health to license third-party testing labs so that medicine the District can be independently tested for labeling and product safety. There were several amendments that were added to the bill at Final Reading and each was approved unanimously. While not all of the amendments were improvements, none are a step backward.
Councilmember Alexander and Council Chair Mendelson introduced a 1000-plant count limit amendment. While this artificially limits the production and variety of medical cannabis in the District, the current limit was already 1,000 through emergency and temporary legislation. The DC Department of Health (DOH) has often pushed against lifting plant-count limit, which was previously set at 95, then 500 plants. Many of the medical cannabis cultivation sites in the District were selected when the plant count was at lower statutory caps and therefore have had trouble reaching the 1,000-plant cap. However, the bill enables cultivation sites to expand or relocate within their current DC Council Ward. With eight licensed-growers, the program can handle its current capacity with the limit, but as more patients join the program, the limit may prove to be harmful.
It is less than two weeks until the 2016 elections. Do you know where the candidates stand on medical cannabis? It matters. Lawmakers at the local, state and federal level are going to make important decisions about medical cannabis that affect your life in the next two years. Cities and counties will decide whether to ban or regulate patient safe access, state legislatures will vote on commercial licensing and patients’ rights measures, and the new US Congress may decide whether or not to keep paying for medical cannabis enforcement.
Today ASA is relaunching our updated MMJ Voter’s Guide and voter education website. We have analyzed the voting records of every Member of Congress to create an educational guide about the voting records of each House Representative and Senator. We have also announced the organization’s positions on each of the medical and adult-use ballot measures.
Across the nation, candidates for federal and state positions are running ads, having town halls, engaging in debates, and knocking on doors. In some of these states, activists and patients are doing what they can to bring cannabis into the conversation.
ASA Executive Director Steph Sherer published a blog in the Huffington Post on Friday responding the the Drug Enforcements Administration's decision not to reschedule cannabis and to a landmark federal court ruling that upholds ASA's position that the Rohrabacher-Farr Amendment prohibits the federal prosecution of conduct that is allowed by state medical cannabis laws. Steph points out that the ball is now back in Congress' court. It is time to pass comprehensive federal reform, and there is already a solution on the table - the CARERS Act.
Victory - Rohrabacher-Farr Amendment Continues to Help Medical Marijuana Defendants in Federal Court - Americans for Safe Access
An opinion today issued in the federal 9th Circuit by a three-judge panel has found that federal prosecutions of medical cannabis defendants may not proceed unless there is a violation of state law. In the opinion of U.S. vs. McIntosh, written by 9th Circuit Judge Diarmuid F. O’Scannlain, the court held that the Rohrabacher-Farr Amendment prohibits the federal prosecution of conduct that is allowed by the state's medical cannabis law.
In the opinion, Judge O'Scannlain wrote:
We therefore conclude that, at a minimum, § 542 prohibits DOJ from spending funds from relevant appropriations acts for the prosecution of individuals who engaged in conduct permitted by the State Medical Marijuana Laws and who fully complied with such laws.
The opinion remanded all of the cases that included in the appellate ruling back to the trial court. If federal prosecutors want to continue pursuing their cases against the defendants, they must prove at an evidentiary hearing that the defendant violated state law.
The Senate Appropriations Committee held AB 2243 in its suspense file this week, blocking the bill from being approved this year. The bill by Assembly Member Jim Wood (D-Santa Rosa) would have imposed a new tax of up to $9.25 per ounce on licensed medical cannabis distributors. This is the second medical cannabis tax bill to die this year. The Assembly Revenue and Taxation Committee killed SB 987 in June. That bill by Senator Mike McGuire (D-San Rafael) would have imposed an additional 15% excise tax on medical cannabis consumption.
ASA opposed both medical cannabis tax bills this year because we believe the imposition of additional taxes is premature and represents an undue burden on legal patients. We rallied our base to email, call and visit lawmakers in opposition to AB 2243 and SB 987. It paid off this year, but tax proposals affecting patients will keep coming up at the state and local level. That is why it is so important for ASA to bring the patients’ voices to the table and to empower local advocates.
Today, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) released its decision to keep cannabis in its current Schedule 1 status. This decision will have substantial implications for the two million patients that currently have access to medical cannabis and cannabis products under state laws. Schedule I status means that the DEA sees no accepted medical use of cannabis.
The Controlled Substances Act requires an 8-Factor Analysis from the HHS upon which the DEA makes it determination for all scheduling, or rescheduling, decisions. Previous efforts to reschedule cannabis have also been blocked by the DEA, who remain the most steadfast in maintaining their opposition to cannabis reform under the Obama administration.
Pictured: Acting DEA Administrator Chuck Rosenberg